We are a culture that worships shoes. Companies have reaped untold billions from our insatiable desire to wear cool kicks. There is indeed a shoe for all occasions. There are shoes marketed specifically for nightlife, formal work settings, soccer, hiking, swimming, and one hundred other activities that I cannot think of.
I am not immune. Last weekend I had a culminating event in my life as I purchased my first pair of jet-black Doc Martins. I feel bad-ass in them.
Yes, our shoes are cool. But do they benefit us? The answer appears to be a resounding “no.”
Here is a piece of startling data. Unless some groundbreaking research has just come out, there is not one shoe manufacturer that has ever been able to claim that their creations can either prevent or even reduce the incidences of injuries.
There is evidence, however, that points to the idea that people who have spent time training without shoes actually have fewer ankle, knee, and hip injuries. (The Stanford University track study is an interesting read.)
Shoes surround our feet and take over the job that the muscles of our feet are supposed to do. The muscles of the toes in particular lose the opportunity to support the foot when shoes are constantly worn.
The sensible thing to do is NOT to throw out your shoes and walk to work barefoot. It would be unsightly, and the muscles of a weak foot would not be able to handle the “cold-turkey” transition from not working to fully working.
I am a proponent of strengthening the toes and feet on a weekly basis. Start with something simple. Place a towel under your feet and work on scrunching the towel under your feet by using your toes. If your feet cramp, start with shorter bouts of exercise and build over time. (Cramping is often a sign of chronic muscle weakness.)
For the more advanced, work on single leg balancing while barefoot. Start with balancing on a flat floor and work your way up to standing on surfaces that perturb your balance.
The conclusion here is that we can have strong feet AND still don a fun pair of shoes for all occasions. As a health care professional, however, I must still say that I will never endorse the usage of high heel shoes. Sorry ladies.